Three women, their faces masks of glee, pull threads to direct the action. A sinister crow swoops in to administer death. A slaughtered swan is hung, neck dangling, by its feet. The Little Angel’s production of Macbeth is full of unforgettable visual imagery. This is the Little Angel’s third collaboration with the RSC on a Shakespearean production in which top-flight actors record a soundtrack to which puppets are manipulated. The vocal cast is full of big names: Nathaniel Parker (Inspector Linley), plays Macbeth, Helen McRory is his bloodthirsty lady, and Donald Sumpter brings a regal tone to the voice of Duncan. The soundtrack itself is beautiful and evocative, with music composed by James Hesford, although the cuts required to bring the story in at just 90 minutes sometimes make the scenes feel a little truncated and abrupt.
The puppets designed by the Little Angel’s own Lyndie Wright, are masterpieces. Each character is imagined as a bird, so Macbeth, Banquo and Macduff are all cockerels, Duncan and his sons are swans, and the witches are vulture-like pterodactyl creatures. This offers an additional layer of commentary on the text, and was extremely effective. The three puppeteers, Claire Harvey, Lori Hopkins, Lowri James, are all highly experienced performers in their own right. I liked the use of female puppeteers, and with their stark black coats and stylistically made-up faces, they seemed to provide an echo of the three witches, constantly manipulating the action throughout. The production was, by necessity, very complex, and the performers had to move swiftly from scene to scene, often swapping characters mid-action and shifting scenery to create a new environment. Their work was flawless, with transitions swiftly and seamlessly managed. The action seemed to flow with a dance-like smoothness and ease.
Indeed, taken separately, every element of the production was of the highest standard. However I couldn’t shake the feeling that the production might have felt more immediate and dramatic had the puppeteers been able to voice the characters themselves. The recorded soundtrack, slick thought it was, only served to accentuate the dancelike nature of the action, and, I felt, lost some of the bloody chaos and urgency which is at the heart of Shakespeare’s darkest play. It was a visual feast and an auditory delight, but perhaps a little more roughness and unpredictability would not have hurt.
Written by Rosie Fiore, our guest reviewer in London.